Lotus eaters

Photo By David Robert

For diners who may be a little afraid to try Thai food because of its reputation as being hot, hotter or hottest, take heart. Thai food is far more approachable than you may think and contains far less fried food than its Chinese relations. Like any other Asian cuisine, the meal strives for balance between hot, sour, salty and bitter flavors. In the case of Thai in particular, the use of herbs often outweighs the use of chilies.

I love Thai food, from the very mild to the screaming hot, so it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to try the recently opened Thai Lotus. Located in a shopping center with several large chain stores, this building has been home to several short-lived establishments.

The interior of the restaurant is either hastily applied or a work in progress. Spartan but crisp artwork and colorful table linens make up a very casual atmosphere that is comfortable and spotlessly clean. A steam table that is used during lunch service for the “take it on the run” crowd sits empty at the dinner hour in favor of sit-down menu service.

The menu is liberally sprinkled with exotic dish names such as tom kha and pud woon sien, all with handy English translations. The menu also boasts that vegetarians and their ultra-strict cousins, the vegans, are welcome, with plenty of truly interesting and appetizing meatless choices clearly marked. Because of the versatility of the cuisine, it is likely that many of the menu items could also be made with tofu instead of meat.

Tony and I began with the Lotus Appetizers ($6.95). Egg rolls that were crisp and fresh were joined by some really fun-to-eat crispy discs of rice with sauces for dipping. The best things on the appetizer plate were the corn patties, little corn fritters with green onion. They were a little bit like an Asian hush puppy, all golden on the outside and soft inside. Whatever else you try here, make certain these are on your list.

I ordered the pud krapow ($7.95), which is chicken stir-fried with spicy chilies, fragrant and flowering purple Thai basil, garlic, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms. The overall effect was light and almost floral, with a hint of spicy kick. I could have made it hotter, and the server offered an option of how hot I would like it. Since Tony was getting a curry dish, I opted to make this one a little less spicy. A perfect accompaniment to this dish was the Thai iced tea ($1.75), a non-alcoholic and very flowery sweetened tea that puts the fire out if it gets too painful.

Tony got the musmun curry ($7.95) with pork. The fragrant curry came in a little covered crock. When the lid was lifted, the aromatic red curry and peanut sauce, onions, potatoes and thin, tender pieces of pork sent forth a rather sinus-clearing steam. At first bite, it didn’t seem that spicy. But after repeated tastings the need for the ample pile of delicate rice became apparent. The amazing thing is that the hotter it became, the more you wanted to eat it.

The service in this place is fun and casual. While it has the feel of a family-run establishment, it must be a family with an abundance of natural polish. Friendly suggestions and professional presentations were carried off without a moment’s hesitation. Our server was sweet and funny, and she never allowed us to go a moment without a full drinking glass. She even talked me into a second glass of that great iced tea. It didn’t cost extra, and it left me with a pleasant caffeine-induced jumpiness.

This little joint has real, authentic food for reasonable prices and great service. If that isn’t hospitality, I don’t know what is.